Women in Saudi Arabia given freedom to open businesses

Written on Feb 22, 2018

Women in Saudi Arabia have been given the green light to start businesses without the permission of a male guardian, the Saudi government announced.

In the past women needed a guardian’s approval and had to visit a notary to document the founding of a company. A new system will carry out all start-up procedures electronically, with no special permissions required.

The move is part of a shift inside the deeply conservative kingdom to offer more freedom to women and, more broadly, to reshape Saudi culture along more secular, modern lines.

The announcement was made via Twitter. “No need for a guardian’s position. Saudi women are free to start their own businesses freely,” read a tweet posted by a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce and investment, followed by a hashtag: #No_Need.

Saudi women make up just a fraction of the labor force in the country, but their participation in the economy is rising fast. In July 2017, the country’s Ministry of Labor and Social Development announced that women accounted for 30% of the private sector workforce – an increase of 130% over the previous four years.

Many Saudi women have cited transportation as a major hurdle to working outside the home. Barred from driving, they must pay a driver or rely on a man relative to ferry them to and from work. But in September, a royal decree announced that beginning in June 2018, women could legally get behind the wheel.

The kingdom' drive for modernization and liberalization is largely attributed to crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is racing the clock to deliver his Vision 2030 for a more modern kingdom with an economy no longer pinned to oil.

Women can now also attend soccer matches at stadiums, and a long-standing ban on musical concerts has been lifted.

Despite the wave of change, Saudi Arabia consistently ranks as one of the world’s least free and least equal countries, particularly for women. It ranked 136 out of 142 countries in the 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index.

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